Consulting: A Different World
I won't say I have a vast array of knowledge as a consultant...collectively I've only been doing it about 8 years. However, there are some things that I have observed that I think will be helpful to those of you who are new to the profession. We will first dispel the myths and address the realities associated with being a Consultant, then we will address the commandments of being a good and valued consultant.
CONSULTING: MYTH AND REALITY
Consultants are outsiders.
Consultants are only outsiders if they make themselves so. You don't have to be an outsider, go out to lunch with your co-workers...talk to them, and befriend them. Just know where to draw the line.
Consultants don't have to answer to anyone and can do whatever they want.
Consultants have, not only the client to answer to, but also the company they represent.
Consultants can come and go as they please.
Consultant can come and go as they please, until the client gets sick of it and boots them out the door.
Consultants are expected to work their hours, like everyone else, granted you have more freedom...just don't abuse it.
Consultants make lots of money for doing nothing.
More is expected of consultants. Consultants are usually asked to come in and get a job done, fast and efficiently, using the clients standards even though they may not be made readily apparent to the consultant.
Consultants have a shorter learning curve. Ask questions, because the client will take time to train an employee but that same regard will not be extended to a consultant.
Consultants only do what they are assigned to do and no more.
As a consultant, you are given assignments to complete by the client.
Consultants do what they are assigned to do. If you find yourself short on assignments from you client ask for more, it will make you more valuable in the clients eyes.
Consultants should know everything there is to know about their specialty.
Who are we Stephen Hawking?
Consultants know what they know, just as anyone does. Anyone who thinks that they don't need the aid of a manual or a technical document of some type is only cheating himself or herself and setting themselves up for failure.
In short...READ A BOOK...IT WON'T KILL YOU.
THE CONSULTANT COMMANDMENTS
JUST DO IT (Nobody likes a "why"ny consultant)
The client's way is the client's way...don't show a negative attitude about why things are done a certain way (see commandment 1 and 5)
The client's time is valuable to them, don't waste it.
Show up! Don't leave your client hanging by not letting him/her know if you are going to be coming to work until the last minute...it is not courteous and will lessen you value to them in the future.
Don't detest...suggest. If you think that the clients system is not where it could be...don't complain about it, recommend another way and discuss it with them...never know...you may build the contract that way.
Don't make promises you can't keep. A wise person once said "It is far better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt" ---truer words were never spoken. It is far better to put off making a decision until you have had a chance to investigate it than to make a suggestion that is not feasible or even possible. It will make you look foolish.
Document everything. As a service to your client and as a service to yourself. What was asked for (in detail)? Who asked for it? For what purpose?
Ask questions. If you are not sure about something, ask questions until you are sure of what is being asked of you. Clients can be unscrupulous whether intentionally or not consultants are easy scapegoats. Cover yourself. (See commandment 7)
Keep the office informed as to what is going on at your client site. The office can't help you out of a bad spot if they don't know about it. Make the company aware as soon as possible.
Always try to do your best work for the client. It is better to leave a client in a better position than when you came in than a worse position after you leave.
Each manager will have their own way of dealing with consultants. Here are a few traits that I have run into.
Type: Middle of the Road/Road Kill
- Always have to balance a positive with a negative
- Usually new to management
- Don't know what to expect from consultants (usually assuming too much)
- Don't give clear instructions because of a lack of experience in doing so
Best handled by...
- Don't argue, just document everything they give you and be able to show that what they gave you is what you gave them (documentation).
- Don't take their criticism too harshly.
Called Road Kill because that is usually what they end up being. They lose employees because they focus as much on the negative as the positive, often giving the negative more weight in the mind of the employee. This ends up costing them employees who feel under appreciated and in turn makes them look like a manager no one wants to work for.
Type: Sacrificial Lamb
- Friendly with a consultant on a one-on-one basis
- Not so friendly or different attitude when among colleagues
- Blame everything they can on the consultant and will not take responsibility for anything
- WILL take credit for work you do
- Document Your work
- Document Any issues that are brought up regarding your work
These types of managers can be hard to handle. Warn the office (if you work through a consulting company) if you suspect you have a manager like this and document ALL issues, no matter how small. Don't confront the manager one-on-one, but be prepared to defend yourself with your documentation.
They treat you like the lamb. You are expendable.
They love you
You love them
Learn as much as you can.
Have as much impact as you can.
Be Careful...they may want to steal you away.
- Dont get too comfortable even if they do love you. You are a consultant and temporary by nature. Do your best at ALL times.
Enjoy the assignment...these can be rare.
The company won't expect anything but your best effort. The client won't expect anything but your best effort. So put forth your best effort regardless of the situation. There is nothing wrong with running into snags now and then...it happens. Investigate, find a solution and move forward, you will be better for having made the effort. Call the company (if you are working through a consulting company) and see if there is another consultant they can refer you to who might have the answer.
I cannot stress enough how important documentation is to our profession. Being consultants we are hired to come in and solve a problem, not create new problems. Prepare easy to understand documentation and update it when necessary. It is not only professional, but will also make your job easier as well as the job of the person coming in after you. I have worked for several clients who were lost when their employees left because they did not leave appropriate doucmentation. I once had a client who had a former employee offer to come back and write up documentation of their job for $10,000!
I volunteered to do the work free of charge. I felt the former employee was totally unprofessional. This person basically wanted money to do a job they should have done in the first place. I was not only able to save the company the $10,000, I did such a good job with the documentation that the full time employee that came in after me didn't require any face-to-face training with me and complemented me on the work. That felt good.
About The Author
Yvette McDonald has been a consultant in various capacities since 1996. Her website, www.Lord-McDonald.com, specializes in resources for consultants and small business owners.